Likoma and Nkhata Bay residents in northern Malawi have expressed fear that with the onset of the rainy season, their transport woes will continue following the poor condition of only two private boats plying on Lake Malawi.
The residents fear the woes might affect distribution of Farm Input Subsidy Programme (Fisp).
Likoma district commissioner Charles Mwawembe confirmed in an interview on Tuesday that transport is still a nightmare for those travelling to and from the two districts.
But government officials have downplayed the fears, assuring the residents that Fisp materials will be ferried to Likoma.
The only ship, MV Illala owned by Malawi Shipping Company, has been undergoing major routine maintenance since early July.Â
â€œWe are worried that lives of the travellers are now at risk with onset of the rains. There are only two boatsâ€”Malungo and Kabanjaâ€” plying their trade on the lake. But itâ€™s only Malungo which is certified fit. However, even Malungo itself is no longer in good condition; it is characterised by breakdowns,â€ said Mwawembe,
He said the shortage of boats on the lake has resulted in overloading and overcharging on the two boats, which, he argues, is not safe for travellers.
Deputy Minister of Transport and Public Works Sosten Gwengwe also confirmed the poor condition of Malungo, but was quick to point out that it frequently undergoes repairs.
He said MV Illala would miss the mid December deadline by two or more weeks before it is back on the waters.
Â â€œIllala is still undergoing maintenance. They finished maintaining the whole hood. Currently, they are fixing the engine and the propellers,â€ said Gwengwe.
Asked about the progress of talks with Tanzania for MV Songea to operate on the lake, Gwengwe said Dodoma has not yet issued certification for the MV Songea to operate on Lake Malawi.
â€œWe certified it to operate on our lake, but they are yet to replicate the same. So we have no right to certify it on their behalf,â€ said Gwengwe, who said Songea is not even plying its trade on the lake in Tanzania.
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Jeffrey Luhanga said government will use all means to take subsidised fertiliser to Likoma.
â€œYou should be assured that there will be fertiliser in Likoma because we also have farmers in Likoma. In fact, there is also allocation of fertiliser for Likoma. If the boats available are not in good condition, then we will hire tag-boats from Monkey Bay. The poor condition of the said boats cannot prevent us from finding other means of transport,â€ said Luhanga.